Jonas Lau Markussen

ᚨ Ansuz



While the Icelandic poem has the name and meaning of the rune as Áss, the other poems have mouth as the name for the rune. The double meaning of the word mouth in the Old Nordic languages is emphasised in the Norwegian and Swedish poems. The poems describe river mouths instead of a person’s mouth, as is otherwise the case in the English poem.

These three meanings, Áss, mouth and estuary, might not seem related at first glance, but they all allude to a common theme of words creating reality. The Norwegian poem says it poignantly, stating that every journey begins at the mouth. Not only did most journeys begin or go through a river mouth in the Viking Age, but the stanza also alludes to the fact that most journeys start with a conversation about where to go and how. But the mouth is also a conveyer of storytelling and capable of taking the listener on a journey without the need to move out of a physical place, thus even adding a third layer of meaning. A fourth layer might also be added in the sense of the possibility of a trip created through intoxication by oral ingestion.

This idea of the mouth being a conveyer of wisdom and a tool to ignite things and change reality is closely connected to the role of the Æsir in Nordic mythology. In the early days, the Æsir pronounced the order of the physical world and time, thus transforming the incomprehensible noise of the primordial void into intelligibility, creating the tangible world. However, as a potent organ, the mouth plays many essential roles throughout the Nordic story world, not least when it comes to Óðinn acquiring the mead of poetry (poetry in the sense of wisdom). The story begins with all the gods spitting in a vessel to seal the truce after the Æsir-Vanir war. From the saliva, they create the world’s wisest man, Kvasir, who dwarves later kill, and his blood is turned into the mead of poetry. When Óðinn later in the story retrieves the mead from the Jotun Suttungr, he drinks it to carry it home, spilling his guts into vats when he arrives in Ásgard securing the mead. The story exemplifies the important and potent role of the mouth as a tool for conveying, holding and retrieving wisdom and how the Æsir, especially Óðinn, mastered its capabilities.

Wisdom and magic are conceptually intimately connected in a Viking Age context, if even indistinguishable. Words are always potent and have the potential to change reality, whether they are meant or perceived to be magical or not.

In addition to being a powerful tool, the mouth is also a portal for the spirit to leave the body in relation to shapeshifting and for outside spirits or forces to enter the body. Huginn and Muninn (meaning ‘thought’ and ‘mind’), while not described as leaving Oðinns body through his mouth, are mythological images reflecting real-life beliefs in some people’s ability to let their mind leave the body in the shape of an animal, which would most likely have been thought to exit and enter back into the body through the mouth.

The image is composed of a man riding a horse. He carries a spear in one hand while holding his other open hand up in front of his face with the thumb pointing into his open mouth. A bird of prey is flying in front of his face and right hand in the same direction as he rides.

He is Óðinn carrying Gungnir (meaning ‘the rocking’) and riding Sleipnir (meaning ‘slippy’ or ‘the slipper’). With his right hand in front of his face and his thumb at his open mouth, he is doing a magical utterance in the shape of the bird in front of him, leaving his open mouth.

His Yellow garments connect him to Buri, the ancestor to the Æsir, in the ᚢ Ūruz image.



English Rune Poem


Mouth is origin of utterance,
support of wisdom and comfort to the wise
and every noble’s elation and joy.


Original language:
Ōs byþ ordfruma ǣlcre sprǣce,
wīsdōmes wraþu and witena frōfur
and eorla gehwām ēadnys and tōhiht.



Icelandic Rune Poem


Áss — is ancient god
and lord of Ásgarðr,
and Vallhalla’s warden.


Original language:
Óss — er algingautr
ok ásgarðs jöfurr,
ok valhallar vísi.



Norwegian Rune Poem


Mouth — is most voyages’ course.
a sheath is for swords.


Original language:
Óss — er leid flestra færda.
en skalper sværda.



Swedish Rune Poem


Mouth — in every river.


Original language:
Ōs — i hvario å.


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